NORTH PORT — A police captain investigating how authorities in Moab, Utah handled a 911 call involving Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie in the days leading up to her murder, said officers committed ” several unintentional errors” during their meeting with the couple.
The investigation found officers had mischaracterized the incident as “disorderly conduct” and should have dismissed it as a domestic violence case.
The report recommends policy changes and additional training for Moab officers, and calls for the two patrol officers involved to be placed on indefinite probation.
Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price Police Department led the investigation and presented its investigation to the City of Moab, which released its report and summary this week.
Price, Utah, is about 185 km north of Moab.
The investigation included questions submitted by attorney Tanya Reeves, who filed a formal complaint about how officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins conducted themselves as they attempted to resolve the situation during their traffic stop on 12 August in Laundrie and Petito.
Although a 911 caller told police dispatchers that Laundrie had slapped Petito on a street in Moab, and officers saw scratches and marks on the two people involved, patrol officers did not proceed to an arrest for domestic violence.
Instead, they told the two to split up for the night, finding a motel room for Laundrie and allowing Petito to stay with his converted Ford Transit van, in which the couple had traveled. Police considered arresting Petito, as she said she punched and scratched Laundrie, but decided against it.
Petito’s family said they lost contact with Gabrielle Petito days after the incident and filed a missing person report on 9/11. Authorities found his body about 500 miles away in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, a week later. A medical examiner said her body had been there for a few weeks and she had been strangled to death by someone in front of her.
After an extensive search, investigators found the partial remains of Laundrie’s body and personal items in a remote, marshy area near the North Harbor entrance to the Mabry T. Carlton Jr. Memorial Preserve on October 21. His death was ruled a suicide, with a gunshot wound to the head.
Meanwhile, the story of Gabby Petito’s disappearance made headlines as social media and mainstream media reported the story.
During the first week of the search for Petito and Laundrie, the Moab Police Department released a report and later a video of its officers’ encounter with the couple. Ratcliffe was assigned to investigate on September 27, days before Reeves filed her complaint on October 1.
“The independent agency’s investigative report reveals that officers responding to the incident made several unintentional errors due to the officers’ failure to cite Ms. Petito for domestic violence,” the report said. “Based on the report’s findings, the City of Moab believes that our officers demonstrated kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident.”
The report notes that Officer Daniel Robbins, who was the lead investigating officer, was hired in May 2021, about three months before the incident. His field training agent, Eric Pratt, had been on the service “off and on” since 2018, first as a part-time agent and then full-time.
Ratcliffe concluded that officers violated several Utah and Moab codes involving incidents of domestic violence. These include not giving the two resource documents to help victims of domestic violence not provide a report of the case to prosecutors.
The report says officers should have interviewed the 911 caller as part of their investigation and recommends that police conduct the interview – despite the passage of time and media attention that has focused on the case. Officers spoke with someone else who had seen a fight between the two in Moab.
Ratliffe reported that experience has shown that a person who may appear to be the “predominant aggressor” in a domestic violence situation may in fact be the victim.
“Based on the information provided, I can only assume that the act of Brian grabbing Gabby’s face was his attempt to ‘calm down’ Gabby or ‘get her to shut down’,” the report said. “Although the act of grabbing someone’s face, as in this case, rarely causes significant injury, I find the specific act of grabbing someone’s face to be extremely personal, violent and controlling.”
However, Ratcliffe continues, “just because there may have been signs that Brian was the predominant long-term aggressor, law enforcement could only act on the information provided to them. “
Pratt and Robbins said they should have handled the situation differently, in hindsight.
“We all do this with the fact in our minds that we know what happened later,” Ratcliffe said quoting Pratt. “So it’s really convoluted and difficult to tell you anything other than what I thought at the time, which was if I had missed a big red flag that he was a murderer so yeah i missed him…if i had known he was going to murder him i would have taken a vacation to follow them, because i care about people, to the point that he was going to murder him…, and I would have intervened and citizens would have arrested him in Wyoming! time; I would have missed my family for doing that. I’m so damn fucked that she was killed. I really am. J would have done anything to stop it if I had known it was coming.”
Robbins also said he accepts responsibility for the situation.
“But I don’t want anyone to think I didn’t care,” he said. the way I would like another cop to interact with my daughter, even if he’s wrong. I do care. I’m devastated. I cared that day and I still do. I don’t think the public understands that we… I don’t know if they know that we care. I don’t know if they know.”
The report recommends that the ministry:
• Provide additional domestic violence investigation training, as well as additional legal training to ensure officers understand state laws and statutes; carry out a comprehensive review of the policy
• Perform a software review. This is due to the missing photos the agents took during their meeting with Laundrie and Petito. The video shows the officers taking photos, but both said the photos were missing when they filed their reports.
• Strengthening the incident report review process.
“The city intends to implement the report’s recommendations,” the report said.
The report also notes that Radcliffe, who investigated the case, had unlimited time to investigate while officers at the scene only had 75 minutes with those involved.
“There’s a lot of speculation surrounding this incident and I can’t answer the ‘what if’ questions,” Ratliffe says in his conclusion. “Mistakes were made in the way this case was handled. If this case had been handled flawlessly, would that have changed anything? No one knows.
“Increasingly in law enforcement, perfection is what is expected and with that comes officers who question themselves and their decisions.
“After reviewing all of the information and speaking with the officers, I am confident and comfortable to say that the errors that were made were not made intentionally. The officers did not know what they were doing was wrong at the time and didn’t make the decision to They both believed at the time that they were making the right decision based on all of the circumstances that presented themselves.
“The Moab Police Department, and specifically Officer Pratt and Officer Robbins, are responsible for their actions or lack thereof with respect to this investigation. However, I find it difficult to assign responsibility to anyone other that the person or persons directly responsible for Gabby died, weeks after and several hundred miles from their Aug. 12 incident in Moab.”